AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — It was one year ago this week that a Formula One team announced a future with an American driver.
But Logan Sargeant’s rookie season with Williams has been seemingly on the skids ever since, with a series of expensive crashes and dismal results that have some wondering if that future is careening toward a quick end.
Sargeant returns to the United States Grand Prix this weekend as the only full-time driver this season to not yet score a point. And Williams, despite some public assurances that it hopes to keep him in 2024, has felt the strain of Sargeant’s missteps.
Williams officials have said Sargeant has “very clear targets” to hit over the final stretch of the season, but exactly what those are, the team and driver haven’t said.
Sargeant said Thursday he hasn’t been told to “deliver anything special, but to be consistent and clean. That’s been the message. That’s all my goal is: to have consistent, clean weekends and try to be on the limit of what the car gives me.”
Presumably that means avoid wrecking his car.
Sargeant was given the Williams drive in a promotion from F2 just as the sport began a popularity boom in the U.S. He is the first American driver in F1 since Alexander Rossi’s brief stint in 2015 with a golden opportunity laid out before him.
Even Red Bull’s Christian Horner at the time praised the move to get an American behind the wheel.
“We need an American driver,” Horner said in 2022. “And not only a driver, but a successful one as well.”
That second part is the hard part.
Sargeant was not going to challenge for race wins at Williams. The team’s cars just don’t have that kind of muscle. But a Williams driver can forge a path to success and gain valuable experience.
Mercedes driver George Russell spent three years with Williams before getting the call up to the big team in 2022. Alex Albon, first promoted then demoted at Red Bull, has refueled his career with Williams.
Albon currently stands 13th in the driver standings with 23 points behind five top-10 finishes. Albon has finished ahead of Sargeant in every race both Williams cars made it to the end.
After a crash in qualifying in Japan, Williams Team Principal James Vowles noted the expenses were piling up. Just building spare parts for Sargeant’s cars were compromising development for 2024.
Then came the race in Qatar desert. The severe heat impacted several drivers. Sargeant struggled so badly he had to abandon the race early.
But Vowles hasn’t wanted to give up on the young American.
“We brought Logan in with a minimal amount of testing,” Vowles said. “We have a responsibility to make sure we give Logan every opportunity to succeed. I don’t believe we’ve done that yet. He is quick.
“At the end of the year, we’ll know, and I’ll be able to look him in the eye and know we’ve given him the best opportunity, or that he is absolutely going to be in the car next year,” Vowles said.
Sargeant believes he can finish the season strong. Starting this weekend would help. The F1 calendar has three U.S. races and each one draws attention to just how the Americans are fairing in a sport continues to grow here.
“It’s been frustrating at times, but since the summer break I’ve sort of found speed again. It’s putting it all together that matters,” Sargeant said.
Michael Andretti was at COTA on Friday with many senior Andretti Global executives in their bid to expand the grid to accommodate a two-car American team in 2025.
His application has already been approved by the FIA, the governing body of F1, but now needs Formula One Management to sign off on the expansion. FOM is owned by Liberty Media Corp. and run by Stefano Domenicali.
Andretti said he’s been stonewalled in trying to engage in conversation with Domenicali, who earlier this week was feted by 1978 F1 champion Mario Andretti at the National Italian American Foundation. Mario is Michael’s father and was also at COTA on Friday.
Michael Andretti is still plugging ahead on his desire to join the global motorsports series and to prove his commitment spent millions of dollars building an F1 car to the 2023 specs that will be tested in the Toyota wind tunnel next week in Cologne, Germany.
Asked why he’d spent the money to build a car before he even knows if he will be approved to join F1, Andretti told The Associated Press: “We had to roll the dice.”
McLaren has made a charge over the second half of the season with five podium finishes in the last eight races. That includes two in a row with 2-3 finishes behind season champion Max Verstappen in Japan and Qatar. That has allowed the team to climb within 11 points of Aston Martin for fourth in the team standings and 79 points of Ferrari for third.
Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz said he still believes Ferrari can hold off McLaren if the Italian team avoids incidents like Qatar when he didn’t even start the race because of a mechanical problem.
“If we don’t have any other (Do Not Finish) or (Do Not Start) results, we should be able to keep them behind,” Sainz said.
F1 will conduct a 19-lap Saturday sprint race at the Circuit of the Americas for the first time. Sunday’s full race is 56 laps. Qualifying for the Sunday race is Friday, with qualifying set for the sprint race on Saturday.
McLaren’s Oscar Piastri won the Qatar sprint race for his first F1 victory.
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